Guest Blog by Eva Groeneveld
It’s February 2021 and an easterly wind is blasting snow flurries outside while we all hunker down and hope for warmer weather to come. Not many of us would fancy the idea of a bike ride right now, but some of us will remember what it can be like in St Andrews when warmer weather arrives. And sitting here in lockdown, many of us would no doubt quite like to get out and about a bit more.
I am a member of SASC, St Andrews Space for Cycling, a group campaigning to carve out safe spaces for people of all ages in and around St Andrews – to wheel, scoot, buggy or walk.
The campaign started in 2017 with an ambition to make St Andrews the most cycle friendly town in Scotland. It was borne out of an acknowledgement that cycling in town is hard, unsafe and mainly the preserve of the brave and experienced. There is poor cycling access to many schools in town, the routes in to St Andrews from nearby villages are poor, and cyclists’ and walkers’ needs are often secondary to those of car drivers.
Over the years, SASC has built links with decision-makers, politicians and others to champion the interests of cyclists and walkers in our town. We do this by commenting on planning applications, meeting with Fife Council officials, talking to MSPs and councillors and building a community of like-minded people to make real change happen.
We want to increase something called the ‘modal share’ of journeys by bike – that is the percentage of people cycling and walking compared to using their cars. We want to make St Andrews the most cycle/walk friendly town in Scotland. With a town of the size of ours, we think it is absolutely do-able. It’s also the Scottish and UK Government’s ambition to make a significant modal shift happen. Why should our town miss out on this cycling (excuse the pun) revolution?
As you’ll see on this blog, cycling has increased in popularity since the start of the pandemic. As traffic levels have decreased through lockdown, people have been finding other ways to travel around and discover their local area. It’s been the same in St Andrews. In July, we saw a modal shift towards cycling, as people dusted off their old (or bought new) bikes to explore the town, visit the shops, or do their normal chores under their own steam, leaving their cars at home. Residents in St Andrews saw an uplift in cyclists and walkers on our streets – particularly young families – who felt emboldened by the safety of the quieter streets (and perhaps also the good weather!)
Research shows that reduced traffic not only improves air quality, it can also make the cycling and walking experience more enjoyable, less stressful – it’s much easier to park a bike than a car. It also brings more shoppers into the town/city for longer, so the local economy benefits too.
In the past, SASC has come together with others to organise car-free days in town – with the eastern end of Market Street closed off to traffic in order to host a number of activities to celebrate safer spaces for people. They have been great fun, and we want to do the same again. St Andrews will undergo considerable change in the coming years, with the Western development, and other improvements on the horizon. We want there to be a cycling voice in the debate, not just heard, but listened to.
We saw last summer an attempt to make space for people, with the installation of bollards on some key streets in an effort to make space for people to move given the requirement for social distancing resulting from Covid-19. There were mixed reactions to the scheme, with many already struggling local businesses seeing the proposals as damaging. What we saw was an opportunity to make a real positive change to our town that would bring people into the town, and make it a better, safer, more enjoyable place for people to enjoy. Other cities in Scotland are making really positive changes, we want to do it too.
As we build our community, we would love to see more support for the group, more members and more engagement. Do check out our Facebook page here. It’s here that you can get updates on our latest activities. The more voices we can speak on behalf of, the more weight we have and the more impact we have together.
Do you have a topic for our active travel blog? Something you would like to discuss or simply think would be interesting? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org, We’d love to hear from you!